Canyon Fires
Book 4 of the Dawnwalker Cycle

a novel by
Wes Boyd
©2004, ©2009

Chapter 7

The wind was still blasting up the Canyon pretty hard, but not as bad as Scooter had expected; still it was a pretty good pull the three miles down to Soap Creek – the next rapids. "Most of the rapids in the Canyon are located where side canyons come in," she told Noah and Jon and Tanisha as they got there. "After real heavy rains, some of these can run with what they call a ‘debris flow’ of mud, rocks and boulders. This sweeps out into the river and that creates rapids, or modifies existing ones. We get down the river several days, at Crystal – well, that wasn’t even a rapids until a thousand-year storm back in 1966. They knew it was the worst storm there’d been in hundreds of years, since it washed out a couple of prehistoric Indian sites that had been dated back to around the 1200s or 1300s."

"You sound like you know this stuff pretty good," Tanisha said.

"I’m learning it," Scooter told her. "Back when I first started here, I couldn’t have told a Kaibab Limestone from a Tapeats Sandstone if either one of them bit me on the ass, but I’m starting to pick it up." She glanced down the river; the rapids was getting close. "Noah, why don’t you go ahead and run this one, and then I’ll give you a break on the sticks?"

"Fine with me," he said, glancing at the upcoming rapids. "Looks pretty straightforward."

"Yeah, it is, at this level," she said. She sat back, with little concern. Noah used to have the touch when it came to rafts. He may not have been in one for a couple years, but he hadn’t forgotten much, and he was picking up the tricks of an oar boat quickly. He picked out a good line just by eye, and lined up for the center of the tongue without any need for comment on her part. In seconds the raft was plunging down the tongue, then crashed into the first of the standing waves below the drop. That went pretty well, and the raft rode over it, but stuck its nose into the second a little, causing some spray to fly up.

"Yeah, that could get interesting," Jon frowned. "Crystal stuck me into a couple like that back on the Ocoee."

"I think I can say that all us old Ocoee guides have done it to someone over the years," Noah grinned. "Of course, on the Ocoee on a hot summer day, it feels good to get wet. Scooter, are you ready to get back up here?"

"Give me a couple minutes, let me make sure everybody else gets through all right," she said. "No reason they shouldn’t but you have to watch out for each other. Ease up a little, just in case." She swung up onto the side tube and looked back up the river. Duane’s boat was the next one through, with Nicole and Randy. Duane drifted up close to them, and she got a look at Nicole. She still didn’t look real happy, but she wasn’t quite as damn grim as she looked after Badger, she thought. "How’s it going, guys?" she asked cheerfully.

"Getting along," Duane said. "Back’s doing better than I expected."

"Better not push it," Scooter told him. "Let Randy on the sticks for a bit if he wants."

"Wouldn’t mind the break," Duane said. "You up for it, Randy?"

An idea crossed Scooter’s mind. Crystal had warned her about Nicole’s problem, and it might help to give her something to do to take her mind off it. Worth suggesting, anyway, she thought. "Even better," she smiled. "Tell you what. Nicole, why don’t you give it a try? Just get the feel of it? It’s not hard."

"I don’t know," Nicole replied dubiously. "You people are all so good at this."

"How do you think we learned?" Scooter grinned. "Right on the sticks, on easy flat water. Go ahead, give it a try."

"Well, all right," Nicole said with obvious uncertainty.

"Just listen to Randy and Duane," Scooter advised, making a mental note to stay pretty close. "Really, Nicole, it isn’t hard at all." She glanced back upstream, counting rafts. It was a little hard to remember that there were six on this trip, rather than the usual five, but Carl was just finishing up the wave train, with Buddha, Giselle, and Ernie aboard. OK, that was everybody.

As Nicole took Duane’s place at the oars of the second raft, Scooter replaced Noah. They were drifting down around the bend, when she looked back upstream to see if everyone was in good order, and there, just starting down the drop of Soap Creek, were the first of the two GCR S-rigs that had been rigging beside them back at Lee’s. Things had gotten crazy when the Canyon Tours bus got in, and she hadn’t had time to say anything to Jim. Well, at least she’d get to wave at him, she thought.

The blue motor rigs caught up with them quickly. The first one went right past – Scooter didn’t know the guy running it – with just some waves back and forth from the passengers, but the second one idled down as it came up on them. Scooter pulled in the oars, and noticed that a lanky guy with a huge white cowboy hat was leaning back on a seat near the back of the raft, his hand on the throttle of the outboard. He edged the back end of the motor rig right over next to the oar boat and drifted alongside, just a few feet away. The oar raft seemed tiny compared to the big raft with its two long side tubes for extra buoyancy; it was twice as long and sat up higher. "Hey, Jim," she called. "Sorry I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye up at Lee’s, but we sorta loaded up and rushed out."

"Yeah, it got busy for us, too," he replied. "All those first-trip-of-the-year kinks. How far you planning on running today?"

"House Rock, probably," she said. "We got a goofy schedule and have to push it some. How about you?"

"North Canyon, I guess," he said.

"Be tempting to run down there," she said. "But we probably couldn’t get together, all that first-night-on-the-river stuff."

"Yeah, same here," he said. "Hey, I gotta get cracking. Joe twists that throttle pretty hard. You have a good trip, Scoot. See you a week from Friday."

"Looking forward to hoisting a couple," she said. "You have a good trip, too. Give me a call when you get in."

"Will do," he said, revving up the outboard on the back of the raft. "See ya on the river." The big motor rig soon pulled ahead of them, leaving a wake on either side.

"Oh, ho," Tanisha grinned. "Do I detect that Scooter has a boyfriend?"

"No, not really," Scooter said. "Raft guides sorta hang out off the river, too. At least we get to hear different stories from the people from the different companies. Jim is pretty cool. He was with us on that Park Service trip back in March, the same one Crystal and Karin and I went on. That was a blast. We had two of those big S-rigs, about two dozen guides from a lot of the companies. The bullshit got pretty thick at times."

"How’d you like riding the motor rigs?" Noah asked.

"Oh, it was OK," she replied without much enthusiasm. "The idea was to cover some ground and still make long stops. You can do it with those. GCR runs them from Lee’s down to Pearce Ferry in eight days, and some companies do it even faster. We took ten days on the Park Service trip, since it gave us more time to do stuff on shore. Ten days, even down to Diamond Creek in an oar boat is pushing it pretty hard, and there’s just no way in hell you could do it to Pearce that fast. Running those things is a lot of damn work, though. I got to run one for a while, managed to get it sideways in 60 Mile of all the damn places. That was fun."

"What happened?" Noah asked.

"Oh, we just bounced off the wall and wound up running the rest of it bass-ackwards," Scooter said. "60 Mile is just a little tiddler. It is really a little tricky to run one of them rigs, they take their time to turn, and when they get on an eddy line and take it in their mind to turn, it’s hard to stop them. You gotta be really careful about not ripping up the prop. Jim and I started in the Canyon about the same time, but he’s probably got twice the number of trips. The guy can handle an oar boat, though, so he can’t be all bad. The last trip we ran, Al came up short a boatman, and since GCR didn’t start their season till today, Jim was available to run with us. Clean him up and get some of that gas smell off of him, he might even make a real boatman."

The rafts were starting to cluster up a little bit, now; Scooter was keeping her speed down so that Nicole wouldn’t feel pushed. Nicole wasn’t going real fast, but at least she was doing it. "How’s it going, Nicole?" she yelled across the few feet of water.

"OK, I think," she said, sort of neutrally. "This is trickier than it looks."

"The big trick for right now is that you just gotta keep it in the fast water," Scooter told her. "You got any doubt about it, follow me."

"That’s what I’ve been trying to do," the dark-haired woman said.

"Looks like you’re doing just fine," Scooter assured her. "We’ll make a boatman out of you yet."

"I’m afraid it’d take a while," Nicole said. "A lifetime or two, maybe."

"I can think of worse ways to spend a life," Scooter laughed. "Standing up in front of a bunch of kids talking about the Civil War or some damn thing is pretty near the top of the list."

"There are times it gets near the top of my list too," Nicole grinned. It was just about the first real grin Scooter had seen out of her on the trip. Maybe she was getting the idea.

As they drifted along slowly, Scooter noticed that Carl was right up with them, drifting along to one side, with Buddha, Giselle, and Ernie aboard. "How you guys getting along?" she called over the few feet separating the boats.

"This is pretty good," the burly, head-shaven Buddha grinned. "Not quite like I expected."

"It gets better," Scooter told him. "The inner canyon isn’t real deep here, but tomorrow we start getting into the Redwall, down about 23 Mile, and it’s a lot more spectacular. You like them back rollers?"

"Nice shape, but you’d have to tow in to catch them," he grinned. "I suppose they wouldn’t think too much of jet-skis down here."

"No, that’s about the best way I can think of to get the Park Service to stand you up against a wall and shoot you," Scooter laughed.

"Can’t say as I blame them," Buddha laughed. "I don’t like the damn things, either."

"Carl, Ernie," Scooter said. "You guys probably got introduced by now, but do either of you surf?"

"Always wanted to try it, but never got around to it," Ernie replied.

"Well, Buddha and Giselle there are about the best people you can learn it from," she told them. "They’re the B and G of that ‘B&G’s Surf Shop’ T-shirt he’s wearing. You might as well know you’ve got a bunch of surfers on this trip. In fact, almost half the people here were down at his place in Florida over the holidays last winter."

"That many?" Buddha frowned, looking around. "Yeah, you and Crystal, Al and Karin, Randy and Nicole, Myleigh, Trey, and Giselle and me. That’s ten. We got twenty people, right?"

"Twenty-one, since Nanci joined us," Scooter grinned. "I guess that means we’re going to hear a surfing story or two before this is over with. I mean, ‘No shit, there I was, forty-foot waves,’ and like that."

"We haven’t had forty-foot waves since Andrew came ashore," Buddha said. "And I wasn’t about to try to surf in that. Cripe, they were washing clear up on the highway."

"That’ll do for a start," Scooter grinned, then spoke up. "OK, let’s spread out and get moving. We’re burnin’ daylight."

*   *   *

Another mile or so drifted by, through steep, sheer walls broken here and there by a dry wash cutting down through the rim, usually narrow and tortured, filled with scree and rubble. Often there were patches of fast water. Randy spent some time looking around; it was much the same as he remembered from his trip a year and a half before, but there was still a lot to see. Crystal had told him once that she always saw something she’d never seen before, every trip she ran, and it was easy to believe.

A little to his surprise, Nicole seemed to be doing pretty well at the oars. A little clumsy, of course, but she did know her way around boats and was a strong paddler in her sea kayak. The idea of putting her on the sticks on this flat section seemed to be calming her; he wasn’t detecting the kind of nervousness that he’d gotten from her upriver. It seemed a little strange, but so long as it worked . . . well, he wasn’t going to complain. Ahead was a little faster stretch of water, and he remembered looking at the guidebook back up above Soap Creek. Well it was worth a shot. "We get through this fast stretch up ahead, I can take back over for you," he suggested.

"You don’t have to if you don’t want to," she said. "This is kind of fun. It’s better to be doing something, rather than just sitting there."

"Don’t I know it," Randy grinned. "I rowed most of the way on my last trip, and enjoyed it more than the times I spent sitting. Of course, now I’m getting the chance to look around more, so it balances out. OK, this fast section up here; just take it down the flatter area toward the center."

"I can do that," Nicole said, looking over her shoulder to set the raft up. As she looked, Duane shot him a frown, but Nicole didn’t notice, as she didn’t notice Randy making a hand gesture to Duane, waving him off.

Riding sideways through the fast water, the boat rocked a couple of times, hardly noticeably. Well, if she wants to row, let her row, he thought. She did that just fine. Up ahead, he could see Scooter stop rowing, and let them come up on her. As they drew in earshot, they could hear Scooter say, "Hey, congratulations, Nicole!"

"Congratulations?" she frowned. "What for?"

"You just ran your first Canyon rapids at the sticks," Scooter grinned. "That was Thirteen Mile."

"That was a rapids?" Nicole said. "I hardly noticed it. I’ve run rougher stuff in canoes."

"You did just fine," Scooter told her. "We talk about a hundred and sixty rapids in the Canyon, but a lot of them are like that. I wouldn’t say the majority, but a lot. Duane, if she wants, let her run Sheer Wall. Nicole, that’s up a mile, maybe a little more. It’s longer, but it’s just about as easy."

"Well, yeah," Nicole smiled. "As long as they’re like that, I can do it."

"Good deal," Scooter said. "Look, three miles after that, we’ve got House Rock. That’s the toughest one we’re going to have for days. We’re going to land right above it to scout it, like I said back up the river there a bit, but I’m sort of planning on camping right below it. If you want to walk House Rock after you see it, no big deal. We’ll be camping on the same side we scout."

"Sounds like a plan," Nicole said. "I’ll see when we get there."

Inwardly, Randy let out a big sigh of relief. This showed signs of working. He’d been worried about running House Rock with Nicole. It could be pretty intimidating; he’d even thought they were going to flip when he’d run it the last time, but that was before he learned just how hard it was to flip one of these things. If she could get used to the easy stuff, even have fun running it on the oars, she could gradually get used to the harder stuff until they got down to Upper Granite Gorge. The stuff down there was worse than House Rock, but she’d have some time to get accustomed to it.

Twenty minutes or so later – he wasn’t sure, his watch was in the bottom of his night drybag, and he planned on leaving it there until they got to Diamond Wash – they came to Sheer Wall Rapids. Actually, Randy knew it was a little harder than 13 Mile, but not a lot, but it was longer and required a little bit of maneuvering, but pretty obvious. "Looks like right down the center to start, then pull a little to the side?" Nicole asked.

"Works for me," Duane smiled.

Sheer Wall proved to be about as simple as it looked. There was a little more bouncing around than there had been in the last rapids, but not much. The river continued fast once past the rapids, and it was a little hard to tell where they ended. "That wasn’t bad," Nicole said, once they were out of the obvious white water. "Randy, that’s nowhere near as hard as those rapids you took me to on the Little Spearfish," she said.

"No, it isn’t," Randy said. "Those are about a four on the Canyon scale, and this one was a two. Plus, you were in a kayak on the Little Spearfish, so you were bouncing around more than you are on one of these big barges." He turned to Duane. "The Little Spearfish is a narrow little stream. You might be able to get one of these things down Upper Quaker if you ran it with paddles, but it’s just too damn wide for the slot that takes you in through Lower Quaker. That’s a nasty little piece of water when it gets high enough to run it at all." He shrugged. "Of course, on a river as big as this, it’s pretty different. At one point, I thought about bringing the Grind and paddling it along with the group, but I decided I’d really rather be with Nicole. Besides, while the Grind would be fun in the fast stuff, it’d be a pain in the butt on the flats. Oh, well, maybe someday."

"You’re right, maybe someday." Duane commented. "You want me to take over for you, Nicole?"

"I can go for a while yet," she said, "or I can let you have it. I don’t mind."

"Well, I’m going to have to run House Rock," Duane said. "And I really ought to not be real stiff when I do it."

"Fine with me," Nicole said, standing up and letting the oars go, while Duane scrambled up to replace her. In a moment, she plopped down next to Randy on top of the gear. "Hey, lover," she said. "That was kind of fun."

"Glad you enjoyed it," he grinned. Yes, this showed signs of working, after all – at least, if looking at House Rock didn’t buffalo her.

It was perhaps another hour before they got to House Rock. The sun was getting down in the sky now, and they’d had a long day – it had started back before dawn in Phoenix for most of the guests, Randy and Nicole among them – and Randy figured he wasn’t going to be staying up late tonight, anyway. He’d been looking forward to House Rock, more just for the chance to get off the river and unwind, than he was for running the rapids.

One by one, the six rafts pulled in to the landing upstream of House Rock. The majority of the party clambered up to get a better look at the drop. As they reached a good place to get a look at the rapids, Scooter looked downstream and said, "Well, shit. I guess we aren’t going to be staying here after all."

Randy looked down to the lower part of the rapids, to see a group of multi-colored rafts pulled up at the campsite, obviously a private party. There are no reservations for campsites in the Canyon; it was strictly first come, first served. He knew from his past trip that the commercial guides tended to talk with each other to coordinate where they were going to stay, but a private party might, or might not – and they weren’t always predictable, either.

Al was up with them. "Plenty of places to stay around here," he said.

"Yeah," Scooter said. "Most of them are pretty small for a party this size, though. Not a lot of room to spread out. Guess maybe we’ll slide down to North Canyon. There’s some bigger sites there." She scratched her head for a minute. "Jim said GCR was planning on staying there, but there’s two big ones, one above and one below."

"Your call," Al said. "You’re running this part of the trip."

"Let’s do this one and get it over with," Scooter said. "I doubt we’re going to have swimmers, but with four boatmen on their first trip of the season, you can’t be sure." She gathered the boatmen around and said. "OK, it’s pretty straightforward, so long as you stay on the right side of the wave train. The problem here is that big reflecting wave that comes in off river left. You’re going to have to start in the center then pull hard right as soon as you get past the lip."

Randy knew it well; the reflecting wave was what had come close to flipping them when he’d run it with Crystal. He watched as the boatmen discussed some of the finer points. In a minute or two, the discussion broke up, and Scooter joined them. "Scooter," Nicole said uncertainly. "I think I’d just as soon walk this one, even if we’re not camping here."

"Probably a good idea," Randy agreed. "There’s close to a full roll of film in the camera. Get some shots of us running it."

"Hey, Randy," Crystal asked. "You didn’t run this thing the last time we ran, did you?"

"No," he replied. "Or the stuff down in the Twenties, or Upper Granite, either."

"I think I’m going to have sleepyhead Nanci walk this one," she said. "She’s been corked off most of the way today, so she’ll probably be awake half the night. If you want to try, you can run it with me. I’ll have Mom run with Duane."

Randy knew he’d love to do it, even though he hadn’t been at the sticks all that much on this trip. He shot a look at Nicole. "You mind?" he asked.

"No," she smiled. "You and Crystal have fun."

"Nicole, we’ll pick you and Nanci up," Crystal offered. "That way, only one of us has to stop."

"Works for me," Scooter said. "Why don’t you run first, so you don’t hold everybody up? Nicole, you and Nanci head down close to that camp, they can meet you there and the pictures will be just about as good as from here."

A few minutes later, Nicole and Nanci were down by the edge of the private party campsite, looking upstream. They couldn’t see the rafts taking off, but it couldn’t be long before they came. Nicole hadn’t had much of a chance to talk to the little blonde with the black eye and the bruises, no more than introductions, but tried to be friendly. "You enjoying yourself?" she asked.

"I think so," Nanci said. "I know I’ve been sleeping a lot, but I hadn’t slept much for almost three days, and I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. It’s awful pretty, what I’ve seen of it. Has it all been rapids like this?"

"No, there’s been a lot of quiet sections," Nicole told her as she kept her eyes on the rushing water. "Those are really nice."

"Maybe I won’t tune them out tomorrow," Nanci told her.

Nicole saw a patch of blue begin to appear at the top of the rapids. "Here they come," she said, raising the camera to her eye.

It happened awfully fast – only taking a few seconds. She could see Randy pivot the raft and pull hard as it ran down the lip, rode up over the first back roller, and plunged down, Randy still working the oars hard. That big reflecting wave the boatmen were talking about was getting close. The raft rode up on it, tipping a little, then rode over the top, plunging down and taking some water over the nose. It was obviously a rough ride, but over the noise of the rapids, she could hear him yell, "Yeeeee-haaaaa!!!" She watched him pull to the side, and into the easy water of the eddy, following its current back up toward them. They hadn’t even reached the shore yet when Scooter’s raft was down getting into the eddy, and Duane and Karin were riding through the easy stuff. By the time they got to the rafts the rest of the party was down in the eddy.

"You like that?" Nicole said as she held onto the raft while Nanci scrambled over the bow.

"That was cool!" Randy said. "I didn’t have as much fun when I ran Lava that time. That just happened so quick and I was so scared it was over in a flash. This time I got to enjoy it."

"It looked like you were having a good time," she grinned. "I see you got a little wet." His pants were pretty well wet, and there were wet spots on his shirt. Much of the raft was dripping.

"Yeah, we poked the nose into it a little," he said, adrenaline obviously up.

"I think you snuck it," Crystal grinned. "That reflecting wave pulses up and down, and I think you hit it down." She looked around. "Everyone ran it clean, I guess. We better get moving."

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